Just how accurate is Gosnell: The Trial of America's Biggest Serial Killer?

Yesterday, the crowd-funded and independently produced film Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer opened on 750 or so screens across the US. My wife and I went to the opening, along with friends of ours; the theater where we saw it was about three-quarters full. The audience remained engaged throughout, reacting audibly to the most disturbing parts of the film, which are mainly suggested rather than shown; the film has a PG-13 rating.

My connection to and support of the film is well known. Filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McIlhenny are good friends of mine, and my views on abortion are well-known on this and other platforms. I noted all of this in my review two weeks ago, but the disclosure is worth repeating here up front.

Now that the film has opened, it has the ability to inform millions of Americans about Kermit Gosnell’s horrors after a failure of national media to cover it properly. That has some on social media insisting that the film lies about Gosnell, especially about his being a serial killer. Critics insist that they’re taking Gosnell out of context and misrepresenting his crimes.

That, however, is simply not the case — and no one has to take Phelim and Ann’s word for it, either. The grand jury in Philadelphia that indicted Gosnell made that clear in their report to the court. Not only did Gosnell “regularly” murder babies born alive, they also found that the state refused to follow up on years of complaints about Gosnell that could have saved many lives:

This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy – and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors. The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels – and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths. Over the years, many people came to know that something was going on here. But no one put a stop to it. …

When you perform late-term “abortions” by inducing labor, you get babies. Live, breathing, squirming babies. By 24 weeks, most babies born prematurely will survive if they receive appropriate medical care. But that was not what the Women’s Medical Society was about. Gosnell had a simple solution for the unwanted babies he delivered: he killed them. He didn’t call it that. He called it “ensuring fetal demise.” The way he ensured fetal demise was by sticking scissors into the back of the baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord. He called that “snipping.”

Over the years, there were hundreds of “snippings.” Sometimes, if Gosnell was unavailable, the “snipping” was done by one of his fake doctors, or even by one of the administrative staff. But all the employees of the Women’s Medical Society knew. Everyone there acted as if it wasn’t murder at all.

Gosnell was convicted of three counts of murder on “snipping,” but the grand jury found that he’d done it “hundreds of times.” They couldn’t charge him with more because he’d destroyed the files:

Most of these acts cannot be prosecuted, because Gosnell destroyed the files. Among the relatively few cases that could be specifically documented, one was Baby Boy A. His 17-year-old mother was almost 30 weeks pregnant – seven and a half months – when labor was induced. An employee estimated his birth weight as approaching six pounds. He was breathing and moving when Dr. Gosnell severed his spine and put the body in a plastic shoebox for disposal. The doctor joked that this baby was so big he could “walk me to the bus stop.” Another, Baby Boy B, whose body was found at the clinic frozen in a one-gallon spring-water bottle, was at least 28 weeks of gestational age when he was killed. Baby C was moving and breathing for 20 minutes before an assistant came in and cut the spinal cord, just the way she had seen Gosnell do it so many times.

And these were not even the worst cases. Gosnell made little effort to hide his illegal abortion practice. But there were some, “the really big ones,” that even he was afraid to perform in front of others. These abortions were scheduled for Sundays, a day when the clinic was closed and none of the regular employees were present. Only one person was allowed to assist with these special cases – Gosnell’s wife. The files for these patients were not kept at the office; Gosnell took them home with him and disposed of them. We may never know the details of these cases. We do know, however, that, during the rest of the week, Gosnell routinely aborted and killed babies in the sixth and 6 seventh month of pregnancy. The Sunday babies must have been bigger still.

The “Sunday babies” issue doesn’t come up in the film, mainly for reasons of screen time. Far from making stuff up about Gosnell for the film, director Nick Searcy and the screenwriters (Phelim, Ann, and Andrew Klavan) had to limit what they could tell in a two-hour theatrical format.

Moreover, the singular focus on Karnamaya Mongar in the film was hardly the only case in which women risked their lives under Gosnell’s care. The grand jury details this in a section titled “Butcher of Women”:

One woman, for example, was left lying in place for hours after Gosnell tore her cervix and colon while trying, unsuccessfully, to extract the fetus. Relatives who came to pick her up were refused entry into the building; they had to threaten to call the police. They eventually found her inside, bleeding and incoherent, and transported her to the hospital, where doctors had to remove almost half a foot of her intestines.

On another occasion, Gosnell simply sent a patient home, after keeping her mother waiting for hours, without telling either of them that she still had fetal parts inside her. Gosnell insisted she was fine, even after signs of serious infection set in over the next several days. By the time her mother got her to the emergency room, she was unconscious and near death.

A nineteen-year-old girl was held for several hours after Gosnell punctured her uterus. As a result of the delay, she fell into shock from blood loss, and had to undergo a hysterectomy.

One patient went into convulsions during an abortion, fell off the procedure table, and hit her head on the floor. Gosnell wouldn’t call an ambulance, and wouldn’t let the woman’s companion leave the building so that he could call an ambulance.

However, the Mongar case showed Gosnell’s depravity in full:

Karnamaya Mongar was not one of the privileged patients. She was a 41-yearold, refugee who had recently come to the United States from a resettlement camp in Nepal. When she arrived at the clinic, Gosnell, as usual, was not there. Office workers had her sign various forms that she could not read, and then began doping her up. She received repeated unmonitored, unrecorded intravenous injections of Demerol, a sedative seldom used in recent years because of its dangers. Gosnell liked it because it was cheap.

After several hours, Mrs. Mongar simply stopped breathing. When employees finally noticed, Gosnell was called in and briefly attempted to give CPR. He couldn’t use the defibrillator (it was broken); nor did he administer emergency medications that might have restarted her heart. After further crucial delay, paramedics finally arrived, but Mrs. Mongar was probably brain dead before they were even called. In the meantime, the clinic staff hooked up machinery and rearranged her body to make it look like they had been in the midst of a routine, safe abortion procedure.

Even then, there might have been some slim hope of reviving Mrs. Mongar. The paramedics were able to generate a weak pulse. But, because of the cluttered hallways and the padlocked emergency door, it took them over twenty minutes just to find a way to get her out of the building. Doctors at the hospital managed to keep her heart beating, but they never knew what they were trying to treat, because Gosnell and his staff lied about how much anesthesia they had given, and who had given it. By that point, there was no way to restore any neurological activity. Life support was removed the next day. Karnamaya Mongar was pronounced dead.

If anything, the film underplays this case; it would have taken another hour to cover it in full for a dramatic presentation.

As for the contention that Gosnell shows why abortion should remain legal, it’s tough to credit that argument. The grand jury report never argues that Gosnell is a reason to abolish legal abortion, but it has something to say about the pro-abortion politicians who refused to enforce inspection requirements and follow up on any complaints. That pressure to ignore any complaints, the grand jury concluded, came from “politics” that “were not anti-abortion, but pro”:

The first line of defense was the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The department’s job is to audit hospitals and outpatient medical facilities, like Gosnell’s, to make sure that they follow the rules and provide safe care. The department had contact with the Women’s Medical Society dating back to 1979, when it first issued approval to open an abortion clinic. It did not conduct another site review until 1989, ten years later. Numerous violations were already apparent, but Gosnell got a pass when he promised to fix them. Site reviews in 1992 and 1993 also noted various violations, but again failed to ensure they were corrected.

But at least the department had been doing something up to that point, however ineffectual. After 1993, even that pro forma effort came to an end. Not because of administrative ennui, although there had been plenty. Instead, the Pennsylvania Department of Health abruptly decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all. The politics in question were not anti-abortion, but pro. With the change of administration from Governor Casey to Governor Ridge, officials concluded that inspections would be “putting a barrier up to women” seeking abortions. Better to leave clinics to do as they pleased, even though, as Gosnell proved, that meant both women and babies would pay.

The only exception to this live-and-let-die policy was supposed to be for complaints dumped directly on the department’s doorstep. Those, at least, would be investigated. Except that there were complaints about Gosnell, repeatedly. Several different attorneys, representing women injured by Gosnell, contacted the department. A doctor from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia hand-delivered a complaint, advising the department that numerous patients he had referred for abortions came back from Gosnell with the same venereal disease. The medical examiner of Delaware County informed the 10 department that Gosnell had performed an illegal abortion on a 14-year-old girl carrying a 30-week-old baby. And the department received official notice that a woman named Karnamaya Mongar had died at Gosnell’s hands.

Yet not one of these alarm bells – not even Mrs. Mongar’s death – prompted the department to look at Gosnell or the Women’s Medical Society. Only after the raid occurred, and the story hit the press, did the department choose to act.

That was the grand jury’s conclusion — not mine, not Phelim’s, not Ann’s or Nick’s or Andrew’s. Why does this matter? It raised — and still raises — all sorts of questions about how many other abortion clinics got a pass during the same period of time, and afterward as well, and not just in Pennsylvania. How many other Gosnells are out there? How many other babies have died needlessly, let alone deliberately killed? How many other women are endangered because politicians refuse to follow the law and conduct required inspections?

And, by the way, the film actually does include a sequence where lawful abortion clinic practices are contrasted to Gosnell’s clinic, taken directly from testimony (in a Janine Turner cameo). Prosecutors were careful in this case to contrast Gosnell’s depravity from the norm and to make the case about murder, but the point remains that Gosnell got away with it because of the political expediency of turning a blind eye to abortionists and their practices. The grand jury made that excruciatingly clear in their findings.

This post could go on forever in showing the horrors of Gosnell from the grand jury report. However, it’s probably best if people read it for themselves and find out what a panel of Philadelphia citizens determined about Gosnell. After doing that, go see the movie and see how accurate it is for yourselves. It’s easy for social-media trolls to obfuscate the truth, but the truth remains available for those who seek it. And this weekend, the truth is on full display whether the media wants to cover it or not.

Update, 10/14: Fixed one grammatical error and a typo in Karnamaya Mongar’s name.